RAYNHAM — Some might find it a bit unsettling to be the oldest person in town and even flat-out refuse to be recognized as such, but not Raynham’s Lois Reed, who pronounced the distinction “kind of fun.”
Reed, who passed the century mark nearly a year ago, turned out last Thursday for a bash in her honor, dressed in a ruby-colored sweater, creamy wool vest, crisp navy slacks, and smart white shoes.
Even though it was her party, the centenarian didn’t come empty-handed. She baked eight dozen cookies to share with the 50 friends and four generations of family there to celebrate.
The occasion was the presentation of the town’s Boston Post Cane, given to a community’s oldest citizen. Asked how it felt to be Raynham’s most-senior citizen, Reed quipped: “It’s exciting. I don’t feel old.”
Nor does she act it. Reed, who still lives in the house she purchased with her husband in 1937, is a senior center regular. She bakes tasty treats for the bingo crowd, looks forward to movie showings, and is one of the reigning champions at “Jeopardy.”
Reed was given a plaque rather than the 104-year-old cane, which is sealed in a glass case in the senior center’s lobby.
Boston Post Canes, fashioned of African ebony and topped with 14-karat gold knobs, were distributed as a publicity stunt to 700 towns throughout New England in 1909 by Edwin Grozier, owner of the Boston Post newspaper. The walking sticks were originally to be held by a community’s oldest man, but the award was extended to both sexes in 1930.
While many of the canes have disappeared over the years, lost in attics, sold at flea markets, or tossed out by those unaware of their significance, Raynham still has its original.
Other area towns are also preserving the tradition. Wareham, which also has its original stick, honored 103-year-old Charlie Wilson as its oldest citizen last month, awarding him a plaque and pin. The cane remains in a vault at Town Hall.
Foxborough has consistently handed out the honor, said historian Jack Authelet. “It’s a badge of honor that says, ‘Hey, I outlived my critics,’ ” he said.
Gertrude Bresse, at 103, currently holds the honor. Recipients, who are awarded a certificate, hold the original cane for a few minutes during the presentation but hand it back for safekeeping in Town Hall.
“One woman didn’t grasp the presentation of the cane was ceremonial, and she wouldn’t release it,” Authelet said of a past recipient. “We had to wait, let it settle down, then explain it to her.”
In Freetown, the original cane was given out until it went missing for about 10 years. The town eventually found it and now keeps it in Town Hall. Selectmen chairwoman Jean Fox said a substitute cane and a certificate are given now.
Isabel Andrade, now 103, is the latest recipient.
“It’s a valuable tradition,” Fox said. “It’s one way we can say, ‘Here’s a person who has been here a long time and is part of the fabric of the community.’ ”
Carver’s cane sat forgotten in a locked closet in the selectmen’s office until 2007, when a local carpenter donated a case to display it. The honor of town’s oldest is not handed out, though.
“They’ve talked about restarting the tradition and we had two replicas made, but they’ve never been awarded,” said the selectmen’s office assistant, Diane Scully.
Duxbury has its original cane as well as a ladies’ cane with a decorative top, donated by a local doctor in 1939 to recognize the town’s oldest woman. No longer in circulation, both canes are stored in the town clerk’s vault.
“The original cane must have been given out to people at one time because it’s all dented on top,” said Town Clerk Nancy Oates. “But I’ve been here for 30 years and nobody’s given out canes in my time.” Oates said officials have talked about reviving the honor but have not moved forward with it.
While Easton’s cane has long been lost, the town gives out substitute canes. The tradition was resurrected in 2002, said Historical Commission member Melanie Deware.
“Since then, it’s been all female recipients,” she said. Gladys Gay, 104, is the current cane holder.
Holbrook Historical Commission member Carol McDonald said she tried to resurrect the tradition in her town, using a substitute cane since the original was gone, but couldn’t get anyone to accept the honor.
“At first they would agree to it, then a few weeks later they wouldn’t want any part of it,” McDonald said. “I suppose if I was 95 and someone told me, ‘You get this until you die,’ I might avoid it, too, but it was really frustrating.”
In Reed’s case, family members say the cane award is something to celebrate.
“Most grandmothers brag about their grandkids,” said Tim Meyer, Reed’s grandson. “I brag about my grandmother.”
Christine Legere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.